“Ugh, not another hike!”
Yep, that’s my girl. Not even the daughter of an outdoor writer and a competitive ultrarunner wants to spend her entire extended weekend walking in the woods. Sometimes, she wants man-made attractions: buzzers, bright lights, shopping, and sweets, sweets, sweets.
Fortunately, we found all of the above when we took a trip to Quad Cities earlier this year.
In case you don’t know, Quad Cities is the name given to five (not four) towns flanking the Mississippi River about 270 miles north of St. Louis: Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline in Illinois. Formerly an industrial and agricultural center, the region in the midst of a revitalization as a New American city with a fast-growing high-tech industry and developing arts and culture scene.
We hopped on the Great River Road and sped north — until near-record flooding of the Mississippi made us reroute to interior expressways (we’d heard the scenic drive was part of the experience, but alas we missed out). Once we arrived at our hotel in Davenport, we put together an itinerary that would pair an outdoor and indoor attraction each day, a best-of-both-worlds scenario that would hopefully make everyone in our family of 10- to 47-year-olds happy.
Here’s how our trip unfolded.
Day 1: Black Hawk State Historic Site and Putnam Museum & Science Center
We started with a hike along the 6-mile trail system in Black Hawk State Historic Site (pictured above), which runs alongside picturesque Rock River in Rock Island. The former home of the Sauk Tribe, as well as a 19th-century amusement park, the land is wooded and rolling, making for a moderately strenuous hike to the stone observation platform. Afterward, we stopped in at the Watch Tower Lodge. It houses the Hauberg Indian Museum, with artifacts and displays depicting the four-season life cycle of the indigenous people.
A short drive away in Davenport, the Putnam Museum & Science Center mirrors similar institutions in other cities, but we always like to support local children’s museums and try the interactive displays. We launched handmade rockets, made a stop-motion film, and laughed as we raced each other on the pulley chair lifts. All of us were impressed by the detailed Unearthing Ancient Egypt exhibit (with two sarcophagi and mummies), as well as by the Natural World exhibit, where we traveled from the Arctic Circle to an African savannah to a Mississippi River wetland.
Where to eat: Riverfront Grille (on the Rock River) and Igor’s Bistro (on the Saukie Golf Course) offer American food and pleasant views.
Day 2: Niabi Zoo and Rock Island Arsenal
A trip to the zoo is like hiking in disguise. We kicked off day two of our trip with an outing to Niabi Zoo in Rock Island County, home to 600 animals representing 200 species from around the world. The 40-acre park is mostly outdoors and easily walkable in a few hours. Feed the giraffes, parakeets, koi, and farm animals, or simply admire the leopards, gibbons, tortoises, owls, and more. Younger kids will enjoy a spin on the miniature train or carousel.
That afternoon, we drove to the Rock Island Arsenal, which is located on Arsenal Island between Davenport and Rock Island on the Mississippi River. An active Army facility that also happens to be on the National Register of Historic Places, the island has a number of historical attractions — like the Colonel Davenport House, built in 1833 — as well as a museum with over 1,200 firearms on display and a visitor center where you can watch as vessels pass through Lock & Dam 15.
Where to eat: Grab a pie at Happy Joe’s Pizza or a handheld and beer at Crabby’s Bar & Grill, both near Niabi Zoo.
Day 3: Sunderbunch Park and the Village of East Davenport
On our last morning, we visited Sunderbunch Park in Davenport — the place to go for mountain biking in the area. Fourteen trails run the gamut of difficulty levels, from beginner-friendly greens to fast and challenging blacks, some with large berms and other purpose-built wood features. Unfortunately, we hadn’t been able to bring our bikes, so we walked the central paved trail and poked our noses into some of the singletrack. In addition, there are 4.5 miles of equestrian trails here and an “American Ninja Warrior” style playground in the works.
We finally let our older kids do their thing that afternoon in the Village of East Davenport, a shopping and arts district a few blocks from the restored Mississippi River waterfront in downtown Davenport (also worth a visit). The girls browsed the gift shops, boutiques, and galleries as we strolled the avenues fringed with brewpubs, restaurants, parks, and charming homes. The perfect place to shop, eat, drink, and play.
Where to eat: Families won’t want to miss Lagomarcino’s, a turn-of-the-century ice cream parlor, confectionary, and café in the Village of East Davenport.
’Tis the Season
Cold-weather thrill seekers should consider a stop at Snowstar Winter Sports Park, just 10 minutes from the Quad Cities near Andalusia, Illinois. With 28 acres of skiable surface, there’s a run for everyone in the family — plus the Little Dipper Learning Center for first timers. A terrain park has features that change weekly, and a nine-lane tube hill entertains those who aren’t into skiing or boarding. Topping it all off, a newly remodeled, 6,000-square-foot lodge has a patio with BBQ hut, lower-level café and taproom, and upper-level grille. You can cruise the 2,200-foot zip line course year-round.
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.